Dumb Phone

How to Convert an iPhone into a Dumb iPhone

Keep your GPS and camera. Make your iPhone dumber by restricting the more intrusive features like web browsing and the App Store.

Updated May 13, 2024

Modern iPhones have awesome features, like Apple Maps and a sharp camera. But some of us feel like our iPhones are messing up our lives, but we don't want to go back to flip phones. What if we could just make our smart iPhone into a dumb iPhone? 

Fortunately, there are ways to maintain access to features we can't live without (like your GPS and high-resolution camera), while greatly restricting the more intrusive smartphone features (like web browsing and the App Store).

Tech Lockdown is dedicated to helping people restrict their internet-connected devices to re-wire the bad habits caused by modern technology. Instead of using an older phone (i.e. flip phone), you could just make your iPhone a bit dumber!

Here is an overview of what we'll cover in this dumb iPhone guide. We'll first start by configuring two areas:

Area 1: User Experience Customizations

  • Dull the appearance of the iPhone interface and limit the visibility of apps.
  • Customize the notification experience to limit or remove the habit-forming features.

Area 2: DNS Content Policy

  • Make websites and apps less interesting through techniques like blocking YouTube thumbnails
  • Schedule usage of apps, websites, or the entire internet on your iPhone
  • Block hundreds of categories of websites and apps
  • For the most restrictive dumb phone approach, block the entire internet and selectively allow specific apps.

Then, you can take your dumb iPhone setup to the next level by combining Area 1 and Area 2 with one of these configuration routes:

Configuration A: Basic Mode

In addition to some other options on a normal iPhone,  Apple's built-in parental controls give you a few ways to limit iPhone features. 

  • Disable the App Store (but this also prevents apps from updating)
  • Disable Safari
  • Default-deny web content filtering
  • Install a config file that routes your phone's internet through your restrictive DNS Content Policy.

Configuration B: Supervised Mode

Apple provides a much more restrictive alternative to Screen Time  with supervised mode.

  • Only allow installing approved apps from the App Store
  • Completely disable App Store while still allowing apps to update
  • Disable Safari and other web browsers
  • Default-deny web content filtering
  • Install a DNS Filter config file that is prevented from being removed

Configuration C: Managed Mode

You can use a Mobile Device Manager to customize and control an iPhone for the ultimate dumb phone setup.

Supervised Mode features plus:

  • Make changes without having physical access to the iPhone you are managing
  • Use Kiosk mode to selectively allow access to phone features

User Experience Customizations for a Dumber iPhone Experience

The first area where you can get some quick wins to make your iPhone a bit dumber is by making some simple customizations that make your phone far less appealing and intrusive.

There are far more effective options (such as device supervision) if you are intent on achieving the most restricted setups. We'll get into some of the more interesting stuff later on, but this is a great way to get started. 

Hide Apps from Siri, Search, and the Home Screen

Most people will try to hide apps using app groups. However, you can go further with this concept.

On some iOS versions (14+), you can hide apps from your home screen, search, and Siri. We recommend hiding all non-essential apps on your iPhone to reduce clutter on your Home Screen. 

If you're using an App to filter content on the internet, it's usually a good idea to hide it from the home screen and also from search.

Make your iPhone Less Appealing with Grayscale Mode

Enabling Grayscale mode will make your iPhone feel less interesting. Images, videos, and general iPhone usage won't be as interesting because the lack of color reduces the dopamine you get from using it.

To do this, open your iPhone's settings page. Search for "Color Filters" - it should be under Accessibility Settings.

Enabling Grayscale is similar to changing brightness on your phone. If you take photos or screenshots and send to another person (or disable grayscale mode), those images will still be in color. 

Limit and Customize Notifications

Notifications are the pop-ups that appear on your phone's lock screen and they often cause your phone to vibrate or make a sound.  They are one of the most problematic aspects of the modern smartphone. Notifications are designed to make you feel a slight sense of anxiety so that you are always checking your phone to complete your notification "Todo list."

Most people put their iPhone on silent, but a true dumb phone setup needs to go much further than this.

A true dumb-phone experience is mostly notification-free, with only phone calls or text messages triggering a notification. The iPhone has many ways to customize notifications, so mix and match some of the below ideas.

We'll get started by customizing the behavior of all notifications on the iPhone.

Next, if you still want to receive notifications from some apps on your iPhone, consider limiting those notifications on a schedule. I highly recommend using the iPhone's notification summary feature to delay when you receive notifications to specific hours of your day. 

Finally, you should limit notifications for apps on your device.

DNS Content Policy for a Dumb Phone

A DNS Content Policy lets you apply rules to your iPhone's internet usage in a more comprehensive way compared to iPhone Screen Time. This is a great way to block content, enforce SafeSearch , and schedule internet usage.

There are two ways to connect an iPhone to a DNS Filter to apply your content policy on any internet connection:

  1. Using an App that configures an always-on VPN
  2. Using a config file that set your iPhone's network settings to point to the filter

DNS Filtering works on other device as well, so you could apply your DNS Content Policy to your entire home internet or specific devices as well.

Here are some DNS Content Policy ideas you can use to customize the internet access on your new dumb iPhone.

Block YouTube Thumbnails

Make YouTube less interesting by blocking clickbait thumbnails.

For example, I can update my Tech Lockdown Content Policy to include a Block rule for YouTube images:

When I install the DNS Filter on my iPhone, or I'm using my home internet connection that also uses the Filter, YouTube thumbnails will not be displayed:

Schedule Internet Usage

Another strategy I use it to schedule when I can use websites and apps that tend to make my iPhone feel way too appealing.

For example, I use my Tech Lockdown Content Policy to unblock news and certain social media apps on my lunch break. Otherwise, these websites and apps are blocked:

You can use this same approach to block the entire internet at night or on a schedule.

Block Categories and Apps

You can block hundreds of categories of online content:

Or pick specific apps that should be blocked:

For example, using my Tech Lockdown Content Policy , I've created a few rules that always block TikTok , Security Threats, and Adult Content and even enforce SafeSearch on Google, Bing, and other supported search engines.

Default-deny Blocking Approach

One option that is particularly relevant to a dumb phone setup is a default-deny approach.

This means that you block everything by default, but selectively allow access to a few apps. For example, you could block all of social media but allow access to only LinkedIn on your iPhone:

You could apply this same concept to broader categories by blocking access to all categories and only allowing access to a useful app like Google calendar:

To prevent myself from simply logging in and bypassing these rules, I lock my Tech Lockdown profile .

This ensures that I can't compulsively make the Content Policy less restrictive but I can still add to it.

Get Powerful DNS Filtering
Get Powerful DNS Filtering
Create and enforce a Content Policy on all your devices.

Basic Dumb iPhone Configuration

In addition to the iPhone interface customizations and DNS Content policy, you can go further configuring your current iPhone to be a bit dumber.

This basic configuration has some limitations, but you can get started with your current iPhone without any additional setup. Check out the device supervision and device management sections later on in this guide to go further with restricting your iPhone.

Install a DNS Configuration File

You can point your iPhone's internet to the DNS Content Policy you set up earlier using a config file.

This will set the network settings on your iPhone to point to the DNS Content Policy you created earlier.

Get Powerful DNS Filtering
Get Powerful DNS Filtering
Create and enforce a Content Policy on all your devices.

Use Screen Time to only Allow Specific Websites or Apps

If all you're wanting to do is prevent yourself (or perhaps a child or teen) from accessing anything but approved websites or apps, then you can use the Content Restrictions feature on iPhones to only allow access specific websites.

By default, iPhone devices usually have the "Unrestricted Access" web content filter set (basically no filtering whatsoever). You can instead set it to Limit Adult Websites, which should block most problematic sites (however, this isn't always guaranteed). 

If you're wanting to create a dumb iPhone, then you can instead change the filter to Allowed Websites Only. This means that you specifically set which websites you're iPhone is allowed to visit.

By tapping "Add Website", that website is specifically allowed to be visited on that iPhone. You can also swipe left to remove an entry on your allowed list at any time.

You can also limit apps that are already installed on the iPhone using the Allowed Apps section in Content Restrictions.

Disable Installing New Apps with Screen Time

There are two ways to disable the iPhone's app store so that new apps can't be downloaded.

Once you disable installing apps, the App Store icon will disappear from your app list.

Important note about disabling Installing Apps
When you disable the app store, app updates will stop working. You'll have to disable screen time, enable installing apps, and manually run app updates. App updates are important for ensuring that your apps continue to work properly. 

A better way to disable the App Store is to use the supervised device mode we talk about later on because it allows automatic app updates.

You can also go to Settings > Screen Time > Content & Privacy Restrictions > Content Restrictions > Apps, then set this to Don't Allow.

Get Powerful DNS Filtering
Get Powerful DNS Filtering
Create and enforce a Content Policy on all your devices.

Enforcing Screen Time

Another important note about Screen Time: it doesn't have a serious approach to bypass prevention. It's main purpose is productivity and parental control. It's not a good option if you are an accountability partner or self-managing your own blocking system .

The most enforcement of Screen Time settings you can get is to lock your Screen Time settings with a pin.

A step above this would be to set a Screen Time pin using another Apple ID, so that you can't reset your pin with an email.

To do this, you can lock your Screen Time settings, then when prompted, choose the option This is My Child's iPhone.

You can then enter a secondary Apple ID (or one from a spouse or other accountability partner).

If this way of enforcing screen time is too easy to bypass, consider the supervised and managed options that we will talk about next.

Supervised iPhone Dumb Phone Configuration

Device supervision is Apple's alternative to Screen Time , which is a step above simply changing the Screen Time settings on your phone. It allows you to enforce something called a "profile", which basically defines what settings your iPhone will have.

This is the best solution to prevent bypass (especially if you are self managing), since you won't be able to change settings on your iPhone without using a second device.

Setting up supervised device mode can be a confusing process, but we've made these supervised device step-by-step instructions available to our members.

Once you set up supervised mode, here are some of the features you can enforce on a supervised iPhone.

Install a DNS Configuration File with Prevent Uninstall

Like we talked about earlier, setting up a DNS Content Policy to block content and schedule internet usage is an important part of converting your iPhone into a dumb phone.

You can point your iPhone's internet to the DNS Content Policy you set up earlier using a config file similar to how you would on a standard iPhone. However, supervised mode unlocks the ability to prevent this profile from being removed.

This will set the network settings on your supervised iPhone to point to the DNS Content Policy you created earlier.

Get Powerful DNS Filtering
Get Powerful DNS Filtering
Create and enforce a Content Policy on all your devices.

Prevent Installing Apps/Disable App Store

You can use the supervised device profile to disable the app store while still enabling app updates. You can find these settings in the Restrictions section of the supervised device profile editor.

When this feature is disabled, you won't be able to install any new apps from the App Store but you'll still be able to update existing apps.

You should install the apps you want access to before disabling this feature. You can also install apps using the profile editor, which is used to customize the supervised device.

Alternatively, you could  create a list of blocked apps  instead of disabling the app store completely. 

Restrict access to unapproved WiFi networks

Block access to WiFi networks that aren't specifically approved in the supervised/managed device profile. 

Content Filter Allow Only Mode

Enabling the built-in content filter with allow-only mode blocks visiting all websites on all browsers unless they are added to the allow list.

Configured Supervised Mode on iOS
Configured Supervised Mode on iOS
Become a member to access step-by-step guides.

Prevent adding VPN configurations or Disable Hotspot

In the restrictions section of the profile editor, you can specify a few options that restrict what iPhone settings a person can change on the device.

Consider de-selecting Allow adding VPN configurations and other options like Allow modifying account settings. Some people might choose to disable the iPhone's hotspot as well.

Disable or Limit Safari

If you are connected to the DNS Content Policy you set up earlier or are using the built-in web content filter provided by Screen Time, you might find that web browsing on your iPhone is limited enough for your dumb phone setup.

However, you could go a step further by completely disabling Safari on your iPhone or limiting it in other ways.

In the restrictions section of the profile editor, select the Apps tab.

There are a few options to consider here:

  1. Allow use of Safari
  2. Enable JavaScript
  3. Accept Cookies

You can disable Safari this way, but you might consider limiting Safari by disabling JavaScript and cookies. Most websites will depend on the JavaScript programming language and cookies to enhance the user experience. For example, the YouTube website accessed in Safari heavily depends on JavaScript. One side effect of disabling cookies and JavaScript is that you may not be able to login to some websites in Safari. This might actually be ideal for your dumb phone setup, so consider this if you don't want to disable Safari entirely.

Create App Blocklist and Allowlists

In the restrictions section of the profile editor, select the Apps tab

When you add apps to the list, you'll be able to search for apps.

This is ideal because these apps don't have to already exist on the iPhone (unlike Screen Time).

Configured Supervised Mode on iOS
Configured Supervised Mode on iOS
Become a member to access step-by-step guides.

Restrict Even Further with Full Mobile Device Management for iOS

Apple also provides an alternative to the supervised device mode: Mobile Device Management. When you fully manage an iPhone, you get similar capabilities to the supervised device mode plus:

Combine Kiosk mode with the previously mentioned device restrictions to create your ideal Healthy Phone.

Setting up managed device mode can be a confusing process, but we've made these managed device step-by-step instructions available to our members.

Here is my iPhone running in Kiosk Multi App Mode:

It's indistinguishable from a normal iPhone, but I've removed certain features (like web browsing and the App Store).

Kiosk mode is basically a "block by default" mode where you have to specify what you want to access.

Enforce an App or Block System apps on the iPhone

Kiosk mode allows you to enforce apps by hiding them from the user. They still exist on the phone, but aren't accessible to the user. 

In Kiosk Multi App Mode you will specify the apps (including system apps) that you want to allow access to. Anything not specified on this list will be hidden, so this gives you a way to restrict access to apps that come with the iPhone like the Settings app.

Manage iOS Devices at Home
Manage iOS Devices at Home
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